Our Italian daughter sent two beautiful and poignant photos this weekend, both of the Mediterranean at Piombino. It’s the end of the swimming season, and her titles were “The penultimate swim,” and “I guess this was the last.” Swimming is very important to her and to her man Francesco, who was born and raised in Piombino.

“First” and “last.”

Baby’s first tooth. The summer’s first ear of sweet corn. The first trip to Europe. Your first lover. Do you remember? How could you forget?

“Last” is trickier. Sometime you know, sometimes you don’t. When our beloved little red Honda CRX failed his smog test and we took him to the junkyard for our $1000 Cash for Clunkers payoff, we accidentally looked out the window just as a huge machine opened its jaws and picked him up by the nose, causing his trunk to fly open in a final spasm. We knew that was the last time we’d see Rover.

Last September I made my annual trek to Carnac, the long rows of standing stones in Bretagne. I’ve been going there every year since 2002; 2017 may have been the last time. I don’t know.

In 1996 Conrad’s mother’s health became perilous, and we flew to Harlan Iowa to see her in the hospital. The prognosis didn’t look good, and we were arranging for Conrad to go back again when word came to Philadephia that we were too late. We hadn’t known it was already the last time.

Following the wheel of the year is a comfort to me. Every last thing is simultaneously a first thing. For some, myself included, Samhain (generally celebrated on Oct 31 or Nov 1) is the beginning of the new year, and also the end: the end of the harvest and the time when the growing dark begins to be felt. It is the time for remembrance of those who have passed, when they are closest, when the veil is thinnest.

For the first time I will be bringing pictures of my mother and my father into a Samhain circle. They both left life in the 1990’s, long before I knew who they were. I am just beginning with them, beginning after their ending.

I will carry them with me.


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